Lakeland, Fla. — Once bitten twice shy. Ian Kinsler wasn’t going to risk creating another sports-talk-radio topic.
Back in TigerTown after playing a key role in Team USA winning its first World Baseball Classic championship, Kinsler was asked what the triumph means for baseball in this country.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m just a ballplayer. I’ve learned not to be political.”
Kinsler unwittingly created a media storm when his comments made in a New York Times article were pulled out of the larger topic and aggregated across the country.
“I hope kids watching the WBC can watch the way we play the game and appreciate the way we play the game as opposed to the way Puerto Rico plays or the Dominican plays,” Kinsler was quoted as saying. “That’s not taking anything away from them. That just wasn’t the way we were raised. They were raised differently and to show emotion and passion when you play. We do show emotion; we do show passion. But we just do it in a different way.”
Kinsler said he wasn’t making a political statement. He said he wasn’t disrespecting Latin players. He said he was brought up in an age where bat-flips and extravagant displays of emotions were not accepted.
He admits, though, his words were ineloquent.
“I talk like a ballplayer,” he said. “I don’t talk like a politician. Things got taken out of context.”
You want to know how important the tournament was for baseball in America — he doesn’t know.
“I hope it’s really important,” he said. “I hope that a bunch of people are really proud of what we did and what we accomplished. I hope that it lights a fire in baseball for the youth of America. I hope kids were watching. I hope that.
“I don’t know, but that’s what I hope and think.”
Other than the media flap, Kinsler enjoyed the entire experience. Asked where it ranked among his career accomplishments, he said, “Pretty high. Not sure where, probably top three.”
Unlike U.S. teams in past tournaments, this one formed a quick, tight bond. And the pressure to win, Kinsler said, was intense.
“It was a really tough tournament,” he said. “You have to win every game. When you are playing games at a high level you learn a lot about guys quickly. We came together really fast. I think Jim (Leyland, manager) had a lot to do with that.
“And we had the right type of guys. We just came together. It was a lot of fun.”
“The atmosphere of the whole tournament was incredible,” he said. “The Miami trip was great. The San Diego trip – we had more fans on the west coast. Miami was about 90 percent Dominican fans. But in San Diego we started to get more support, and in L.A. we had a lot of support.
“We could definitely feel the difference in the game when we had more people there. It was a tremendous tournament.”
Now it’s back to business.
Kinsler will return to spring training action Sunday, with a week of exhibition games left before opening day.
“I’m ready to go,” he said. “I played three Game 7s in a row, basically, as far as stress and emotion. You were facing pitchers who are trying to get you out as opposed to pitchers who are working on stuff. You are trying to get hits instead of working on things. You are trying to score from first as opposed to going first to third.
“You are trying to play games at a high level for two weeks. So, I am ready to go. I will take a couple of days off from playing and get back at it.”